Signs & Symptoms | Sense of Smell During Pregnancy
Some women have such a strong sense of smell they liken it to a bloodhound on the hunt.
Crystal Forkan from Tampa Bay, Fla., says that for her, a strong sense of smell was one of the first signs of pregnancy. “I think that I noticed a heightened sense of smell very early in my pregnancies,” she says. “Basically, if the smell was strong or a little more than neutral, I started heaving and gagging. Even some of the things I normally didn’t mind smelling made me queasy.”
This heightened sense of smell seems to come early in their pregnancy.
Christina Friedrichsen-Truman from Windsor, Canada, noticed that some smells would send her running for the bathroom while others were almost intoxicating. “If my husband ate even the tiniest bit of onions or garlic, I wouldn’t let him come near me,” she says. “But my heightened sense of smell wasn’t always a bad thing. For some bizarre reason I would walk into any Canadian Tire store and love the smell of the place. It smelled like rubber and for some reason, I loved that smell. I also loved the synthetic smell of dollar stores and the scent of gasoline.”
Margaret Buxton, a certified nurse midwife and an advanced practice registered nurse for West End Women’s Health Center of Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center, says that while science may not completely understand a woman’s heightened sense of smell during pregnancy, many women definitely do.
“Evidence suggests that there is a heightened sense of smell in pregnancy, although scientific studies are inconclusive,” Buxton says. “And there is definitely a relationship between heightened sense of smell and food aversions.”
What’s Going On?
Dr. Christine Vergara, an OB/GYN for the Weinberg Center for Women’s Health at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md., says there have been many theories about why a woman’s sense of smell might increase during pregnancy.
scent of a pregnant woman”Many patients have complained about an increased sensitivity to smells during early pregnancy,” Dr. Vergara says. “Studies performed in the ’80s were thought to show a higher olfactory acuity in women who were pregnant or ovulating. This was thought to be related to estradiol levels, which are increased during those times. More recent studies seem to indicate that this effect may be mostly cognitive, or related specifically to a person’s genetic tendency toward chemical sensitivities.”
According to Dr. Vergara, the earlier studies hypothesized that a change in a woman’s sense of smell would help a woman avoid consuming food that might possibly harm the fetus. “This has not been proven,” she says. “There has been a study which concluded pregnant women could not distinguish whether a smell was safe or not.”
Many women note that this heightened sense of smell seems to come early in their pregnancy and wanes as the pregnancy progresses. Dr. Vergara says there is a reason for that. “Later in pregnancy, many pregnant patients have swelling in their nasal mucosa, caused by another pregnancy hormone called progesterone, which can actually decrease a patient’s sense of smell,” she says.
Smell and Morning Sickness
One thing is certain: The heightened sense of smell does affect a woman’s morning sickness, though experts are not exactly sure what comes first, the morning sickness then the increase in smell or the sense of smell then the morning sickness.
“Since the senses of smell and taste are closely related, it is possible that a patient’s nausea from morning sickness may cause them to be hypersensitive to taste or smell and not the other way around,” Dr. Vergara says. “When someone already feels sick, they wouldn’t appreciate any strong stimuli.”
In either case, strong scents such as garlic, curry, onions or frying bacon are certainly not appreciated by a woman feeling the effects of morning sickness.
scent of a pregnant woman You can’t spend the entire first trimester in an air-purified room, so you might want to try avoiding places that generally have strong aromas such as restaurants or grocery stores.
“Like any patient with hypersensitivity to smells, I would tell the patient to avoid strong or irritating scents, possibly try fragrance-free detergents or notify family, friends or co-workers as to which particular scents bothered the patient the most so that they could be avoided,” Dr. Veraga says. “If the problem causes rhinitis or an allergic reaction, then prescribing an antihistamine may be necessary.”
So whether you are swooning over the smell of rubber or hurling over the smell of fried eggs, just remember that like all the other symptoms of pregnancy, this, too, shall pass.
3 Tips to Help Tame Those Smells
Though science has yet to pinpoint specifically why pregnant women often develop an increased sensitivity to smells, there are a few things you can do when dealing with it.
Here are 3 of them:
- Avoid your danger areas. If curry sets you off, now would not be the time to jet down to an Indian restaurant for takeout.
- If the smell of breakfast sends you over the edge, try sniffing a small cup of coffee beans. Perfume stores often offer customers coffee beans to sniff between sniffs of perfume to help clean out their nostrils.
Try scented candles or potpourri that is pleasing to help cover those scents that are not.